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Power Rankings | Memphis in sprint at the heart of the marathon | NBA

After a first assessment at the quarter of the season, it’s time to take stock of the teams, the classic “Power Rankings”, halfway through the campaign. A complicated exercise because the Omicron wave disrupted the balance of almost all the teams, distorting a lot of results and breaking some dynamics.

Memphis and other in-form teams

The main lesson of this second quarter of the season is that Ja Morant and his Grizzlies have indeed taken off. It is first without its leader that Memphis (29-14) found his feet, stringing together wins by really setting up his defense, before the Morant rocket took them even higher. Since the beginning of December, the Tennessee troop is the best team in the NBA, with 18 wins in 22 outings, the third attack, the best defense, a “Net Rating” of +12.6 and victories against the Nets, the Warriors (x2) , the Suns or the Heat.

The trajectory of the club, to be compared with that of the first quarter of the season, is thus bluffing.

Despite the injuries, Cleveland (24-18) is undoubtedly the other very good surprise of the second quarter. The Cavaliers’ start to the season was already good and despite the quarantines as well as the hard knocks (Collin Sexton, Ricky Rubio…), the “very tall ball” is bearing fruit, with a defense still as delicate to maneuver, a Darius Garland who is growing visibly and a collective that seems globally on the same wavelength.

Toronto (20-18) also raised the bar nicely. Nick Nurse has regained his full rotation, as well as a Fred VanVleet – Pascal Siakam duo in good shape, and that necessarily changes a lot of things. The team remains limited but its army of versatile wingers can pose problems for everyone.

Of course, we can add Chicago (27-12) who took control of the East despite the turmoil of many, many quarantines and injuries. The Bulls may have benefited from a lenient schedule and some miracles from DeMar DeRozan, but the (new) mental strength of Billy Donovan’s group is to be highlighted, as well as the growing influence of Nikola Vucevic in the game, in order to to balance it all out.

Overall, we can also add Miami (26-15) and Philadelphia (23-17), who above all held up despite the absences, thanks to a dense collective or a dominant Joel Embiid.

Upheavals among the leaders

Phoenix (31-9) and Golden State (30-10) are still at the top of the league but the two clubs, so brilliant in the first quarter, have shown some flaws recently.

The Suns thus sometimes cough offensively, but nevertheless remain extremely solid, in particular thanks to their management of the end of the match. Chris Paul and his crew have won 14 of their 17 games that have been played with five points or less in the last five minutes this season. It’s the best ratio in the league.

The Warriors are clearly looking for a second wind. Particularly targeted, visibly tired and consequently frustrated, Stephen Curry hit the mark and Steve Kerr will have to find solutions to revive his attack, which fell from 3rd place to 26th place between the first and second quarters of the season. Fortunately, the defense is still holding up, but Golden State is counting on the return of Klay Thompson to release his “Splash Brother” a bit and bring back efficiency on the offensive level.

Utah (28-14) should have been among the in-form teams. It was even the team with the best record of the second half of the season… until Rudy Gobert was isolated. Inevitably, without its defensive totem, the balance is much complicated to find but the defensive collapse is embarrassing, with four consecutive defeats which illustrate how much this army of shooters relies on the French pivot on the defensive level.

For Brooklyn (26-14) and Milwaukee (26-17), these are different observations, with the Nets still worrying about the hardness and the impact under the circle, and who have just won their first success against a “cador” of the season, his “Big Three” mechanically unable to build automatisms with a Kyrie Irving limited to away games only. The reigning champions of Giannis Antetokounmpo are on alternating current and generally fail to start their season.

Big disappointments

The first team that comes to mind is obviously Atlanta (17-23). It was the year of confirmation for the conference finalists and it’s an understatement to say that Trae Young and his gang are disappointing.

Granted, they’ve been troubled by quarantines and injuries, but the defensive issues are just too many, with Clint Capela losing impact and can’t quite make up for it anyway. The appointment of Nate McMillan had shaken the group last year but, this season, the technician cannot find solutions for a group which, like John Collins, is in lack of benchmarks. Especially since the Hawks are far too predictable, and it weighs them down in the fourth quarter.

Portland (16-24) seems on his side clearly at the end of a cycle, which the injuries of Damian Lillard and CJ McCollum do not help. It seems to be a bit the same Indiana (15-27) that the arrival of Rick Carlisle did not revive. Hard to think that the Blazers and the Pacers will remain intact at the “trade deadline”…

We can also put the “history”: LA Lakers (21-21), Boston (21-21) and New York (21-21), surprisingly all at the same level. For LeBron James and his troop, it is the very balance of the team which is problematic, without Anthony Davis, with a defense always embarrassing and an attack which relies on the exploits of LeBron James and the eruption of a few “role players”, while Russell Westbrook seems on his side lost.

As Bob Cousy quite rightly explained recently, the Celtics seem to lack a conductor while the Knicks, even if there are some sparks lately, need to find the ardor of Julius Randle of last season if they want to move up in the standings in the second half of the season.

The soft belly

Many teams in this in-between since this funny season seems to allow almost no rhythm. Charlotte (23-19) is capable of beautiful things, but the troop of LaMelo Ball remains fragile defensively. Washington (22-20) remains above the waterline with astonishing composure at the end of the match, but still seems too limited to really hope for more than a runner-up in the next playoffs.

West, Dallas (22-19) seems to have found a certain defensive stability, which allowed him to get back in the standings, but it will take a hell of a rise in power from the duo Luka Doncic – Kristaps Porzingis at the end of the season to aim higher. For Denver (20-19) and the LA Clippers (21-21), the problem is linked to the numerous absences. Without Jamal Murray and Michael Porter Jr, Nikola Jokic is far too lonely at the Nuggets, while it is difficult for Los Angeles to hope to shine without Kawhi Leonard and Paul George.

Minnesota (20-21) seems for its part the personification of this soft belly, with alternations between winning streaks and losing streaks, and overall statistics that rank the team around 15th place in almost all areas. But it’s still progress for the club compared to recent seasons.

Dunce caps

There are therefore seven dunces left, even if their balance sheets are quite different. New Orleans (15-26) is thus going up the slope after a disastrous start to the season, and while the return of Zion Williamson is more and more hypothetical this season. For Sacramento (17-27) and San Antonio (15-26), it is frustration that dominates when discussing the balance sheet of the two clubs at the halfway point.

The Kings are too inconsistent, with a De’Aaron Fox who seems less sharp, when the Spurs lack “star power” but do not deserve in complicated conditions. For Oklahoma City (13-27), Houston (12-31), Detroit (9-31) and Orlando (7-35), the operation tanking continuous reconstruction and the only interesting perspective is the progression of young players. For the results, we will have to wait.

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